7 September 2001

Crossbred lambs bigger and better, trial reveals

By Robert Davies

LAMB weight and quality can be improved quickly by putting terminal sires on hill ewes, indicate early results from a trial at ADAS Pwllpeiran.

This years export ban means that thousands of Welsh lightweight lambs will realise only £10 a head through the governments welfare scheme, but crossbreds from the 600-ewe trial flock should end up in retail shops.

Full physical and financial figures will not be available until the new year. But ADAS researcher Barbara McLean says it is already clear that most of the projects crossbred lambs will produce heavier carcasses with improved conformation.

Last year 70% of purebred lambs out of Pwllpeirans Welsh Mountain ewes weighed less than 14kg on the hook and classified O or worse for conformation. But crossbred lambs, from the same ewes, produced this year were scanned for eye muscle and backfat in late August and already weighed an average of more than 35kg.

"The export ban has highlighted the fact that most purebred lambs out of Welsh Mountain ewes do not meet UK market specifications," says Dr McLean.

"The change in hill livestock payments means producers, who want to continue to exploit the breeds hardiness and mothering ability, can now cross all ewes not needed to produce replacements."

In the longer term, the answer could be to use a crossbred or composite ewe where farm conditions and climate allow, which is why researchers started the crossing project at Pwllpeiran.

Texel, Dorset Down, Lleyn and North Country Cheviot semen was used on the 600 ewes last autumn to provide ewe lambs for evaluation. Respectively, the different breeds were selected to improve conformation, frame size and early maturity, milk yield and carcass length.

The long-term aim is to improve income by finding the ideal type of ewe for the hills.

When weaned at 16 weeks old, all crossbred lambs weighed more than purebreds in the main flock. As expected, the increase was marginal for Lleyn and Cheviot crosses, but lambs out of the two other sires were 10% heavier.

Lamb survivability and growth rates were good, under the farms harsh conditions and Dr McLean is confident that most will match domestic market specifications.

Owen Davies, who manages Pwllpeirans research team, adds that changes to the support payments system provides an opportunity for all hill flockmasters to re-examine breeding strategies.

"Higher rate Hill Livestock Compensatory Allowance payments and good export prices have not encouraged producers to look at alternatives to purebreeding. Selling lambs for £10 a head on a welfare scheme is certain to make them think again." &#42

CROSSBRED LAMBS

&#8226 Heavier at weaning.

&#8226 Meet UK market spec.

&#8226 Evaluating as replacements.